With Jim Kleinsasser
retiring after being one of the best tight ends in the NFL for 13 years, Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman
and the team's scouts were looking for a tight end sleeper in the draft, and they believe they found one in Rhett Ellison
of Southern California.
Ellison was taken in the fourth round after playing side-by-side with Vikings top draft pick Matt Kalil for three seasons at USC.
Because of their experience together, the two players know each other's moves in every way, and that familiarity has been a big plus for both in training camp.
"I got to play in his first game that he started and got to see him just grow from there. He's a really good player," Ellison said of Kalil. "I actually started four years. I was there five years, but I was a three-year full-time starter. That first year , I just started about half the season. It definitely was a lot of fun when [Kalil and I] got to do combination blocks."
Kalil, the No. 4 overall pick in April, has been going against Jared Allen, the great pass-rushing defensive end, in practice, and Ellison said his college teammate is playing very well but still learning.
"We were just talking about it, you're doing all right on one play and the next play you just get ran over. It's about trying to find that balance," Ellison said. "I've watched some of his 1-on-1's on film, and it looks like he's holding his own."
Ellison, who was taken 128th overall in the draft, said he was definitely surprised when the Vikings drafted him. "I didn't have all the numbers and the physical ability," he said. "I didn't think I was going to get drafted, so when the Vikings called me I was very surprised."
Coach Leslie Frazier said he is really excited about the way Ellison is competing and believes that the rookie will be a big factor in the offense.
"The fact that he gives us some flexibility to be able to play the fullback position along with the tight end position, we can move him around a little bit," Frazier said. "It should help us from a roster standpoint."
Frazier said it's a plus that Ellison and Kalil were college teammates and are good friends still, and he added: "Ellison was a heck of a special teams player in college, also. He has some things that you kind of like from a coaching standpoint."
Twins' record is surprise
Look at the much improved performances of Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau from this season to last, and you wonder why the Twins' record of 49-63 entering Saturday is not as good as their 112-game record of 51-61 last year.
The Twins were nine games out of first place a year ago after 112 games compared to 12 1/2 this season.
At this point last year, Morneau was in a stretch where he was sitting out for two months, from early June to early August, because of injuries. This season, he has been outstanding since the All-Star break, hitting .340 with four homers, 17 RBI and a .553 slugging percentage in 24 games going into Saturday.
On Aug. 5 of last year, when the Twins played their 112th game, Mauer had played only 54 games, hitting .292 with one homer, 21 RBI and 24 runs. Through the same point this year, he has played in 103 games, hitting .320 with seven homers, 57 RBI and 64 runs. His .416 on-base percentage entered Saturday as tops in the American League.
Then you throw in Ben Revere, who last Aug. 5 was hitting .254 with 15 RBI, 37 runs and 19 stolen bases in 71 games. Now as the established everyday right fielder, he is hitting .323 with 25 RBI, 43 runs and 27 stolen bases in 77 games.
Through 112 games last year, the Twins had scored 442 runs, 20th in the major leagues. This year, they were at 505 runs, good for 12th. The Twins began Saturday with 151 runs since the All-Star break, second in the majors to the Angels' 152.
It proves how important pitching is, and it was much better last year. Through 112 games in 2011, Twins pitchers posted a 4.40 ERA. This year, it's 4.83, 29th out of 30 teams.
Room to improve
The 2011 Twins pretty much went south the final two months of the season. From Game 113 on, they went only 12-38, far and away the worst record in the majors.
At the end of the 2011 season, the Twins lineup was so riddled with injuries that they had players such as Joe Benson and Rene Tosoni in the lineup. Both those outfielders are now struggling at Class AA New Britain.
Now, with only one injured regular in Trevor Plouffe, the Twins hope to avoid the same situation. If they do, and if they can find enough pitching -- which was a problem again in the first two games vs. Tampa Bay this weekend -- they should not come close to losing 99 games like they did last year.
• Chisholm High School renamed its football field after Joel Maturi on Saturday. The recently retired Gophers athletic director played football, basketball and baseball at Chisholm. Maturi, now a fundraiser for the Gophers, said he is having some success in getting a new basketball practice facility built.
• Dan O’Brien, who is Jerry Kill’s right-hand man as Gophers director of football operations, will be inducted into the Concordia (St. Paul) Hall of Fame on Oct. 5. As a former athletic director and football coach at Concordia from 1999 to 2005, one of O’Brien’s important accomplishments was moving the Golden Bears program from NAIA to NCAA Division II.
• Former Timberwolves assistant Jerry Sichting was named an assistant coach under Randy Wittman with the Washington Wizards. Sichting coached under Wittman, Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale with the Wolves. Also on Wittman’s staff is former Wolves point guard Sam Cassell, former Wolves assistant Don Zierden and former Gophers guard Ryan Saunders, Flip’s son.
• Scott Sorenson was recently hired as the coach at Northland College in Ashland, Wis. He had been an assistant coach at Minnesota Crookston and before that worked at Bemidji State and DeLaSalle High School.
• Oswaldo Arcia, playing for the Twins’ Class AA New Britain farm team, was named the Eastern League player of the month after hitting .354 with four home runs and 25 RBI in July.
• Apparently, the Wolves didn’t have any interest in bringing former Hopkins and Gophers forward
Kris Humphries back to the Twin Cities, but he has really found a home with the now-Brooklyn Nets, who re-signed him to a two-year contract for $24 million after he averaged 13.8 points and 11.0 rebounds last season.